The first weekend of May the world turns its attention to the Kentucky Derby and the thoroughbred racehorses who compete for this prestigious title.
While many marvel at the beauty and athleticism of the horses, it’s hard to forget the tragedies of horses like Barbaro, who suffered a leg fracture at the Preakness Stakes, ultimately dying in pursuit of the Triple Crown. If Asto CT succeeds, broken limbs in racehorses may be a thing of the past.
We started Asto CT in 2015, with a mission of developing a computed tomography (CT) imaging device that was specifically designed for horses, who often suffer from several debilitating conditions such as fractures, lameness, and tooth and sinus problems.
Today’s CT systems orient the gantry, the part of the device that collect the images, vertically. To collect images of horse’s legs using this type of machine, the horse requires anesthesia to stop him from moving and a team of people to upend thousands of pounds of horse so the legs, head, or neck of the horse can slide through the scanner. This makes it too dangerous and expensive to collect CT images of horses unless there is a sign of a problem.
Unfortunately, by the time the horse is showing symptoms it may be too late.
Breaking a leg for a horse is not like for humans. Leg fractures experienced by racehorses often include many pieces of bones that must be pinned together surgically. These injuries frequently cause pain to the animal, and the horse must be put down.
Our goal is to make CT imaging widely available for horses. This will allow veterinarians to quickly and safely detect the earliest signs of weaknesses in the horse’s bones and make changes to their training so they can build the strength they need to race again.
To develop our device, named Equina™, our team needed to find a way to rotate the gantry and build robotics so that the horse can walk onto a platform, and the CT machine can rise slowly and quietly around the legs, head, or neck to collect images without startling the horse.
The materials needed to do this had to be rugged enough to account for the fact that our “patient” is much larger, heavier, and stronger than human patients.
As to CT is a young company, but like the horses we aim to help, we are moving fast. We have just built our first machine, which has been tested on a horse using the same procedures we would use in a veterinary clinic.
We have been able to accomplish this through collaborations with the University of Wisconsin for veterinary expertise, and from our CT partner, Photo Diagnostic Systems Inc. for imaging expertise. Starting in 2018, we hope to see Equina adopted by major equine clinics, changing the way fractures are detected in horses.